Editorial – On Muslim-Catholic dialogue

Marnie McAllister

Marnie McAllister

Some of the rhetoric regarding our Muslim brothers and sisters, which we’ve heard all too often recently, is reprehensible at best.
And it should be nothing short of sickening to those who call themselves Christians.

Seventeen or so years ago, a young Muslim woman from Pakistan emigrated to the U.S. to join her new husband, a Lybian-American. She was frightened by the advice she received from her husband’s acquaintances: Shed her head scarf; show some skin and fit in.

Her habits of fasting and prayer were also targets of her new “friends.” She felt humiliated and scandalized by what she was gradually learning about society in the United States.

Until she made a Catholic friend. Through this Catholic-Muslim friendship two young women realized they felt the same way — although practiced it differently — about prayer, fasting and modesty. They bolstered one anothers’ faith as they swam in a counter-cultural current together.

That friendship of mutual respect and understanding survived the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars, conflicts and additional attacks that have pitted Americans against Muslims all over the world.

There’s no denying there are bad Muslims bent on violence. But we have to simultaneously acknowledge that there are bad Christians, also bent on violence. The majority of both faith traditions share core values of peace, love and mercy.

And we shouldn’t let politicians, pundits or our own willful ignorance fool us into believing otherwise.

The first official national Catholic-Muslim dialogue was conducted in February at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

During a keynote address, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego highlighted what he called “the scourge of anti-Islamic prejudice.”

“We are witnessing in the United States a new nativism, which the American Catholic community must reject and label for the religious bigotry which it is,” said Bishop McElroy, according to a story by Catholic News Service (CNS).

Bishop McElroy called on Catholics “to recognize and confront the ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry” in the United States.

He also urged them to seek personal relationships with Muslims, to accompany the Muslim community as it wrestles with religious liberty issues, and to join with them in creating a Middle East where Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities can coexist in peace, CNS reported.

He also said Catholics should reject the notion that Islam is inherently violent or that Muslims are trying to institute Sharia law in the United States.

The bishop compared these falsehoods to the anti-Catholic bigotry that infected the U.S., including our own commonwealth, when immigration from Germany and Ireland was on the rise in the 19th century.

Let’s not forget the lives lost and blood shed here in Louisville during the notorious Bloody Monday riots on an August election day in 1855. At least 22 people died in the violence and flames that erupted that sixth day of August.

It’s time we remember our history and embrace our neighbors as Christians should. If that troubles you, trouble yourself to follow Bishop McElroy’s advice — seek a personal relationship with a Muslim person — and find out if your prejudices hold true.

If you need to learn a bit more to be convinced, check out the Festival of Faiths at Actors Theatre next month, where interfaith dialogue will be front and center.

MARNIE McALLISTER
Editor

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